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“My mother says that when I was young, my backpack was always ready to go,” says Francesca Bonato. “I’ve always wanted to see how other people live, to find out what other places are like. I just have an inexplicable urge to go everywhere.”

Francesca’s desire to travel first took her on a solo adventure to Mexico to explore the nation’s landscapes. While there, she met her husband, Nicolas Malleville (he served her coffee on one of Tulum’s white sandy beaches). The two quickly fell in love, married and started to work toward a shared dream: founding Coqui Coqui—a mini hotel empire on the Yucatán Peninsula.

Francesca recalls, “Our friends and family all started coming to stay. We decided to build a guest room, and then another one. We kept adding more and our home started to become a hotel.” But she points out that Coqui Coqui grew from humble beginnings: “Nicolas and I didn’t have money when we started, so I would cut papayas for everyone’s breakfast while he was out cleaning the beach.” She continues, “We dreamed it all up and built it together from nothing.”

Today, Coqui Coqui’s boutique hotels are bohemian hideaways that can be found in Tulum, Valladolid, Coba and Mérida. Francesa and Nicolas work hard to ensure that each hotel reflects the culture and customs of its locale. “When we move into a new city, we work with its community. We invest in its people and learn any traditions. It’s not just opening a hotel—we work to earn the trust of local residents, and are able to infuse each hotel with elements of its surrounding culture and history as a result,” Francesca says.

“We dreamed it all up and built it together from nothing.”

One aspect of the Yucatán Peninsula that the duo particularly welcomes is the region’s natural tropical scents. So much so that each Coqui Coqui hotel has a personalized fragrance thanks to the couple’s perfumeria. There’s dewy coconut inspired by Tulum’s beaches, lime and mint to reflect Coba’s lush gardens, and a strong scent of Rosa Secas to reflect the town of Valladolid.

The perfumery is what Francesca refers to as the soul of the business. “It’s the true essence of the hotel,” she says. “Nicolas loves perfumes, and goes out in the jungle, exploring the flora everywhere we go.” The scents are meant to be transporting, urging the wearer to escape to a more relaxed and simpler way of life while at the hotels. “Our clients can feel everything that we put into our hotel and perfumery. They can sense that it’s all made with passion,” says Francesca. “We set out with love as a driving force, and we’ve learned that people understand it.”

This story appeared in The Kinfolk Entrepreneur in 2017. 

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